Ever since the opening minutes of its pilot in 2002 — when Detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) murdered an Internal Affairs officer who’d infiltrated his, er, ethically flexible anti-gang “strike team” — The Shield has been fueled by one simple, high-octane question: When will Mackey finally, finally get busted? Our Doomsday Clock counts down to midnight, his final hour.
Where to start? A beaten Shane winds up in the hospital, looking like his face served as the sprung floor in an elephant’s tap-dance class. No sooner does his caring wife find out about his teenage mistress (damn you, unexplained condoms!) then Corinne, his nurse, conveniently drops off a bottle of soothing Oxycontin. (Damn you, hillbilly heroin!) This is not a promising development, neither for the increasingly fragile Shane nor for the show. (As we learned earlier, addiction subplots on TV have a dubious history.)
Meanwhile, who should show up at the Barn but Carl Weathers! That’s right. Apollo Creed–slash–Tobias Funke’s acting coach arrives to recruit Vic into a moonlighting gig running off a Jamaican drug gang from an apartment complex. Vic reluctantly decides to ride shotgun when he meets Weather’s partner, a raging redneck who’s part Hulk Hogan, part David Duke. Next thing you know, one drug dealer’s drinking urine from a toilet bowl and another’s being thrown out a window (then limping off into the night — yeah, that’s not going to come back to haunt them).
Still, relatively speaking, Vic is keeping his (own) nose clean. But you can sense the dark clouds gathering when he finds out that Guardo — last seen on the receiving end of an exuberant chain-lashing — did not, in fact, kill Lem. Who did? Well, Shane, of course — information that was previously known only to Shane but has now been shared with his wife during a tear-streaked meltdown. We love the actor Walton Goggins as much as anyone, but given that by now Shane (a) has killed one cop, (b) has been complicit in the murder of another, (c) spent a season as a corrupt enforcer under the thumb of Antwon Mitchell, and (d) uses the song “Dixie” as his cell-phone ringtone, maybe it’s finally time for him to go spend a long stretch in a small room, thinking about the bad things he’s done. —Adam Sternbergh
Clock’s current time: Nine minutes to midnight.